For the first time this fall, there was someone wearing something else beside green and white on the Marshall sidelines. Conference USA officials worked the Herd's scrimmage Saturday night providing the players a boundary line of what is a penalty and what is not. It took only five plays into the scrimmage before the first flag was thrown--one of several false starts on the evening--and nine plays before a defensive back was called for pass interference. It has been questionable all camp of how much contact the Herd secondary was getting away with on the receivers, but that was rectified rather quickly by the men in stripes and a few yellow hankies.
Coach Holliday had several likes and dislikes from his team at the completion of the scrimmage but more importantly, he had several opportunities to see young guys to step up and make a play without a coach on the field.
"Defensively we've got to get better," Holliday said. "You're never happy walking off because one phase of the team didn't play as well, but we will be fine on defense. We had some guys we didn't play for a reason."
However on offense, Holliday was pleased with his teams output.
"Offensively we made plays," Holliday said. "The receivers made some catches down field and that was good to see. I was anxious to see some of the young players when we got off the field and let them play and they reacted pretty well."
Holliday was most impressed with how the young players stepped up tonight.
"You see the young kids, the Yuracheks, Gator Green, Angelo Jean-Louis, you see all those guys just get better," said Holliday. "Players make plays and they made some plays today."
Holliday said the officiating crew was a welcomed site to the session.
"It was nice to see those guys," Holliday explained. "They (officials) could see how the secondary was playing with their hands and that type of thing. That was a great crew and I was glad to get them out here."
Over amped start for Cato
Taking the field for the first time with officials this season, the Heisman Trophy candidate shook off a rough start to finish strong. Cato's first five passes fell incomplete before he connected with Jean-Louis for a 27-yard touchdown strike. The crowd erupted with applause for the first score of the night. Although starting 0-of-6, Cato finished 5-of-6 including two deep throws to Davonte Allen. Cato hit Allen on a streaking route up the far sideline for a gain of 42 yards on a pass that Cato threw from the shadow of his own end zone. Cato's second hook-up with Allen was a jump ball into the north end zone on the near sideline that Allen skied over corner Corey Tindal for a 22-yard touchdown strike. If Allen and Jean-Louis can stretch the defense down field, Cato will be like a kid in a candy store as he picks the defense apart.
Keep feeding the rock
To no surprise, Devon Johnson started along side Cato in the back field. Johnson took the first play of the night forward for a gain of six yards. Johnson only saw the ball five times but finished with a 6.4 yards-per-carry including a 14-yard carry that he broke through several attempts of being the big back to the turf. Johnson also turned a 4-yard loss into a 3-yard gain by simply churning his legs and playing through contact. If Johnson can stay healthy this season, Cato could slice and dice the middle of the field as defenses will have to put a spy on 47. Play action with Johnson could almost be unfair at times.
Stew Butler saw action with the twos as he finished with 46 yards on 11 carries. Butler also had a score and a fumble that Emanuel Beal was able to jump on to retain possession. Butler simply lost the ball as he was running in space, it was not forced by the defense. Butler was able to bounce back later in the contest as he punched in a score from 11 yards out on a nice option read by Holcombe who read the blitz and made the hand off. Butler finished with a 4.2 yard-per-carry average.
Remi Watson continues to heed Coach Barclay's advice of getting north and south as soon as he can. Watson finished with 51 yards on 11 carries and a touchdown to cap off a five-play 25-yard drive that saw Watson handle all five carries. Watson had a slow start with his first three carries being 4-yards, 1-yard and no gain. He bounced back with a 3-yard and 9-yard gain. His biggest gain of the night went for 13-yards on first down. Watson finished with a 4.6 yard-per-carry average.
Tony Pittman was the work horse of the night as he tallied a team-high 14 carries. However, the freshman only totaled 27 yards.Pittman's longest run of the night was six yards but also had a carry the resulted in a loss of four after Stefan Houston blew Pittman up in the backfield. Pittman took a loss of five on a play that came off a bad snap after the quarterback recovered the ball and stuffed it in the bread basket of the freshman. Pittman did convert two third and short for a first down. Pittman could easily turn into a third down specialist for the Herd as he attacks the line with bad intentions in mind.
Air traffic control
With the amount of talented receivers that will line up Saturdays this season, Cato may be able to add air traffic controller to his resume by the season's end. Of the 14 receivers who was targeted by a quarterback, all 14 made at least one catch. McManus led all receivers with six targets with Shuler leading catches with three.
Davonte Allen continues to impress as Coach Furrey said this is the time for Allen to be the guy. Allen was targeted five times but two of his grabs would be on a highlight reel. A 42-yard grab down the sideline where he outran the defender in coverage and skied over Tindal for a 22-yard touchdown. Allen's continued progress could become a staple for the offensive production deep down field. The junior looks much faster than last season and seems to have the confidence that he lacked.
Craig Wilkins showed up in a big way finishing with two catches for 46 yards including a 38-yard touchdown grab from Holcombe. Wilkins' score was an amazing catch as it appears he will be the third member of the outside receiver group of Allen and Jean-Louis.
Gator Green had one of the best non-scoring catches of the night as the freshman nearly converted a third-and-24 after a breaking a tackle and using his shifty speed to break into the open field ahead. He was able to pick up 21 on the play and continues to make a case to be on the field this season.
Other players with scoring plays tonight was Emanuel Beal on an 11-yard pass from Cole Garvin and Rodney Allen with a juggling 12-yard catch from Michael Birdsong on a frozen rope from the James Madison transfer.
As the back-up quarterback position is still officially undecided, it appears that the job will be Holcombe's and while Garvin will travel, he is like to use a redshirt and not play. Holcombe made some nice passes tonight but also have several inconsistencies as well. Holcombe had a pass tipped by Ra'Shawde Myers only to have freshman Kendall Gant pick the next attempt. Holcombe finished with two scores.
Garvin got one of his own in the end zone with an 11-yard strike to Beal. He would however get picked off by Mark Shaver two possessions later.
Michael Birdsong showed the crowd in attendance of what is coming in 2015. Due to transferring, Birdsong must sit this season but very well could challenge for the starting role next year. Birdsong commanded only one drive but excelled in doing so. The junior transfer went 2-of-2 for 28 yards and a touchdown during the four-play 25-yard scoring drive. Birdsong connected with Ryan Yurachek for a 15-yard gain on first down and hit Rodney Allen for the score. Birdsong's passes were lasers with plenty of zip on the ball as it headed down field.
Just kick it already
Tyler Williams showed that he has a potential NFL caliber foot waiting on the sideline should Coach Holliday need it this season. Williams booted punts of 53, 53, and 46-yards with hang times between 4.2 and 4.8 seconds. Williams did attempt a rugby style punt but shanked the kick badly as it sailed out of bounds and netted only 12-yards.
Justin Haig and Nick Smith attempted several field goal attempts during the evening with Haig having the better showing. Haig connected from 51-yards on a kick that just sailed over the cross bar. Smith's 51-yard attempt sailed wide right but had plenty of distance. It appeared that Smith's attempt did not have the laces spun into proper position.
Time to "D" it up
Stefan Houston and Cortez Carter led the team with six tackles while Raheem Waiters had 5. DJ Hunter and Kendalll Gant finished with four each. Oddly enough, after the top three leading tacklers of the team were all linebackers last season, the top five tonight were of the same position.
Have you Herd it?
Tonight's announced attendance was 550 for the 90 minute scrimmage session.
The two-deep should be announced early this week.